So how does a pastor cultivate complete patience with those entrusted to his care over a period of many years? Here are a few suggestions.
When I am impatient with others, I have temporarily lost sight of God’s patience with me. At the root of my impatience is self-righteousness and pride. Daily remembering God’s patience with me protects my soul from sinful impatience with others.
I love this reminder from J.I. Packer:
Appreciate the patience of God. Think how he has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him and you have so richly deserved his rejection. Learn to marvel at his patience, and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others; and try not to try his patience any more.¹
“Think how has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him.” When you’re 62, you appreciate a statement like this more than when you were 25. I appreciated God’s patience then; I just appreciate it more now. He has patiently borne with me for 37 more years. My wife, my children, and the men I serve with in ministry know how true it is: there is so much of my life that is unworthy of him.
“Learn to marvel at his patience.” You have got to marvel before you imitate. Have you marveled at it recently? If you haven’t, that is an early warning sign. Learn to marvel at his patience, and seek grace to imitate that patience in your dealings with others.
“And try not to try his patience anymore.” I love that little parting appeal from Dr. Packer. Immediately I think, “Ok, I will try. I am not sure how that is going to go, but I will try.”
Aren’t you grateful that, as Psalm 103 proclaims, God does not treat us as our sins deserve? As you contemplate God’s patience with you, your soul will be humbled, and you will begin to treat others with “complete patience” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Trust God’s Timetable
You may have noticed that the most common biblical metaphors for ministry are drawn from the world of agriculture: sowing, watering, harvesting. Agriculture is slow. God is patient. Most of the time, he works out his purposes gradually. He is comfortable with seasons, years, and generations. For me, a month is a long time. My time frame is days, minutes, seconds. I don’t like to be patient.
My pastoral ministry can be more informed by the world of technology than by the world of agriculture. I turn on my iPhone and I want a signal now. If I count one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi and there’s no signal, I want to know what is taking so long! But if I look up from my iPhone and bring that attitude to a conversation with a church member, someone for whom Jesus died, I am being unfaithful to the pastoral charge. My pastoral ministry cannot be informed by the world of technology; it must be informed by the world of agriculture.
God won’t be rushed.
So how about you? Does the way God normally works shape your view of your church? Are you completely patient? Here’s a recommendation: Don’t assume you are sufficiently patient. Ask around. Ask your wife, ask your children, ask your staff, ask your elders. Say to them, “I want to have an unhurried time when we can evaluate my soul in this area. I don’t want just want my preaching evaluated; I want my heart evaluated. Am I pastoring you with complete patience?”
When I am impatient with others, I have usually lost sight of God’s patience with me. I have forgotten that sanctification is a process. I need to be reminded of God’s timetable.
So what is Paul’s charge—God’s charge—to ordinary pastors like you and me? Preach the gospel faithfully, in season and out of season, with pastoral discernment and complete patience (2 Timothy 4:1–2).
This post is part of a series entitled “Ordinary Pastors” and is adapted from a message I preached at T4G 2010, which was published in a compilation of sermons from that conference entitled The Unadjusted Gospel (Crossway, 2012. Used by permission.)
¹J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 20th Anniversary ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 165–166.